Here’s your Situation Update for February 22, 2018


Department of Defense photo

Welcome to your Situation Update, a regular feature from Insurgentsia that covers irregular war and runs weekday mornings. The scope of these posts will cover wars small in name, but big in our imaginations and defense budgets.

The weather forecast this morning is cold with a 50% chance of misunderstanding the context of historical events. I hope that helps you wherever you are located as you read this.

A bomb in northern Myanmar killed two and injured 22 at a bank on Wednesday. The bombing was not claimed, but Myanmar has many armed groups representing ethnic minorities in its northern frontier. The ethnic minorities claim that Myanmar’s government is persecuting and displacing them and using examples of violence like this bombing to justify it. Myanmar is also home to the Rohingya, ethnic Muslims who live in Western Myanmar, who were recently displaced by the government in what the Western media has called a genocide.

Stealth fighters are in the Middle East and they aren’t American suggest pictures that Russia deployed its latest-generation Su-57 to Syria. Some analysts are worried this may prove Russia is preparing for a wider regional conflict there. It may also be to test their capabilities in a live war lab like the U.S. has done in Afghanistan by bombing drug laboratories with stealth F-22s.

I keep writing about the devastating violence in a Damascus suburb and there’s not much left to say. The United Nations recently delivered a blank statement as a symbol for the horror there that left them speechless. So here are some photos of the senseless and total destruction.

Saudi Arabia joined Turkey and China efforts to block the U.S. from adding Pakistan to an official international financier of terrorism list. Pakistan recently pledged 1000 troops to support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The U.S., Saudia Arabia, and Pakistan all worked together to finance what wasn’t yet popularly known as terrorism in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 when they armed and trained jihadists against the Soviet Union.

A Yugoslav veteran attacked the U.S. embassy in Montenegro then blew himself up. The man as served an anti-air gunner during the NATO bombing of then-Yugoslavia. Montenegro joined NATO last year.

The 76 girls missing after a Boko Haram raid in Nigeria were reported rescued by the Nigerian government. But when Nigerian officials visited the villages where the missing girls were from, they admitted that they are still missing.

A Basque separatist group in Spain plans to vote to dissolve itself by this summer. The group, known as the ETA, killed more than 850 people in a campaign for independence from Spain and France over the last half-century. It voluntarily disarmed itself last year proving insurgencies can and do end.

This concludes your Situation Update. Questions may be posted in the comments section. Answers may be given, but philosophy begins in wonder.  To receive these in your inbox daily, use the follow button on the sidebar (web) or below (mobile). Your next Situation Update will be Friday, February 23rd, 2018.

The Cost of Forgetting US Military Failures

090219-A-6797M-101        U.S. Army 1st Lt. Larry Baca from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment monitors the weather as a storm moves in outside of Forward Operating Base Lane, Afghanistan, on Feb. 19, 2009.  DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini, U.S. Army.  (Released)

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini, U.S. Army.

The Atlantic put out a good piece titled Forgetting Afghanistan a few days ago about how the US government and public seem to be consciously forgetting Afghanistan as our attention shifts back to Iraq and IS. It seems that it is not solely a shift in focus, but a deliberate attempt to remove the failure of the war in Afghanistan from society’s collective thought in an attempt to relieve the guilt and shame that may be associated with the military (and diplomatic) defeat there.

The article points out that this concept is not new. After the Franco’s death in Spain, the Spanish government decided the best way to move forward was to commit to la desmemoria—the disremembering—choosing not to remember its authoritarian past in order to transition to democracy.

But this is not even the first time the US has chosen to disremember a military failure. The article also mentions that after the Vietnam War the US Army Special Warfare School threw out its files on counter-insurgency.

Perhaps I am naive, but this shocks me. I think it is well established that the US Army is not a learning institution. But to destroy records in an attempt to get out of the business of counter-insurgency is a level of infantilism from the Army that I was not prepared to accept. Once again, the US finds itself distancing itself from COIN as it deploys more tanks to Europe and refuses to send anyone but inside-the-wire advisors to Iraq.

Obviously, forgetting our COIN lessons in Vietnam did not prepare us for success in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who knows what those records contained, but the US Army should be training for any mission it is called to undertake, not just the ones it wants. As long as civilians control the government, the military is going to have to do things it would rather not do. As the United States has not won a war in over twenty years, and since World War II has lost more wars than it has won, it is probably time the DoD becomes a learning organization.

Even though the US may be purposely forgetting Afghanistan, for the moment it seems that the administration is doing its best not to disremember some of the lessons from Iraq and that is encouraging. While the main goal might only be to limit US troop casualties and prevent the nation from being bogged down again in an unwinnable situation in Iraq, at the very least we are looking at our failures from the last ten years or so and saying, “let’s not do that again.” It’s clear that Obama is doing the bare minimum there until his presidency is over. As the president who was elected to end wars, he does not want to leave another one for his successor.

The United States is currently limiting its engagement overseas for political reasons, but this cannot last forever. As the political climate changes, the DoD must prepare for the next unfavorable mission—even if that means COIN or whatever we will be calling it in 2025. Clausewitz wrote:

We must therefore familiarize ourselves with the thought of an honorable defeat. We must always nourish this thought within ourselves, and we must get completely used to it. Be convinced, Most Gracious Master, that without this firm resolution no great results can be achieved in the most successful war, let alone in the most unsuccessful.

Without honorably accepting our defeat and learning from it we will never truly win again.